Sending AIDS Drugs to Haitians in Need Is Massachusetts Institute of Technology Student's Project
March 14, 2002
For the past year, Sanjay Basu, a 21-year-old neuroscience major at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has transformed his tiny dorm room into a non-profit prescription-drug-transfer center, where he collects and then sends thousands of doses of AIDS medicines to a clinic in Haiti. Between classes, the senior is building a network of pharmacists who send him express packages of unused AIDS drugs, sometimes secretly. So far, he has recruited 26 in 18 states. They send him drugs that were returned from drug-resistant patients, or because side effects caused a patient to switch medications. Sometimes, family members send pills after a patient dies.
Many states forbid redispensing drugs, primarily for safety and liability reasons. Some drug makers pay companies to collect and incinerate returned and expired drugs. Doctors and pharmacy administrators say that millions of doses are thrown away every year. But a few pharmacists ignore the laws and hand over returned AIDS medicines to groups ministering to the sick and dying. "The medicines pile up and they get near their expiration date and I just can't bear to destroy them," said one pharmacist, anonymously.
Basu's enterprise is gathering its supplies pill by pill -- 10,000 pills so far. The US Food and Drug Administration says the federal Prescription Drug Marketing Act, with some exceptions, calls for distributors of medicines to be licensed by the state, which Basu is not.
Basu, who spent last summer handing out antiretroviral medicines in an SUV on the Burma-Thailand border, minimizes the legal issues surrounding his work. "We're so small (and, collectively, quite radical politically), that legality is less of a concern for us than patients' lives, and pushing the line on legality might just be the type of thing we'd want to do," he said. Basu sends the pills to Partners in Health, a Boston non- profit that is affiliated with a Haitian AIDS clinic. "In a more rational world, there would be no need for this sort of effort," said Dr. Paul Farmer, who works at the clinic where Basu's drugs end up.
Wall Street Journal
03.14.02; Rachel Zimmerman
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.